It’s been less than two hours since I walked out of Jack the Giant Slayer and I can barely remember what happened. That’s not exactly a good thing, is it?
Here’s the basic set up: Nicholas Hoult plays Jack who goes to the market and sells his horse for some beans that grow a giant bean stalk into the sky via which giants attack. Pretty straightforward, really.
The problem is that despite all it’s intentions, the movies just kinda boring. There’s some pretty cool set pieces but even though it kills off some characters –including ones I understood going in were major characters– it just never felt like there was any real peril, and the movie spends so much time going back and forth between the giants being farting, nose picking bumbling fools and menacing, angry, “let’s bite the head off this human” monsters that a tone isn’t ever really effectively set.
Similarly, Jack is chastised by his uncle for being a lazy and easily distracted fool but as soon as the bean stalk grows he immediately proves himself neither lazy, easily distracted or foolish. No development there, just a switch that gets flipped to serve the plot.
The plot itself is pretty thin and it’s not really compelling at all. In fact, it’s almost like they came up with a bunch of ideas for things they wanted to see happen first and then wrote just enough of a story to string those things together and nothing else. It’s frustrating even, since there are just a few changes they could have made which yes, would have made the story a bit more cliche but which would have given Jack a better personal, relatable arc. I get the feeling they might have been avoiding the heroes journey on purpose but the end result is uninteresting.
If you’ve seen the trailer you might go in thinking that it’s going to be an effects extravaganza but it’s not. There are effects everywhere to be sure, but the giants don’t look good enough for me to have suspended disbelief enough for me not to notice that all the CGI is good but nowhere near being great.
In fact at the start of the film the back story is provided by Jacks father reading the legend of the giants which is played out on screen in what’s meant to be stylized animation but instead just looks like terrible video game cut scenes. You can see that they were going for something similar to the backstory sequence in Hellboy II but they missed the mark utterly.
It’s annoying too that the despite a pretty stellar cast I couldn’t really bring myself to care about many of the characters. Nicholas Hoult is fine as Jack and Eleanor Tomlinson is fine as the princess (yes of course there’s a princess) but Stanley Tucci is basically just being Slimeball Stanley Tucci here. It’s not terrible to watch but it would have been nice to see some experimentation. Bill Nighy is the same as the leader of the Giants. It’s a voice role to be sure, but it’s just Bill Nighy’s angry voice and nothing more. (side note: despite voicing over the trailer, Sir Ian McKellan isn’t in this at all that I could see/hear. Weird.)
The standout for me is Ewan McGregor who basically dials up the swagger to 11 and runs with it. He steals most every scene he’s in, and every time he’s not on screen I found myself wondering when he’d be back.
In my mind I like Bryan Singer. He’s made some amazing movies, two of which I count among my all time favourites, but everything he has done since X-Men 2 has fallen pretty flat. He doesn’t nail down a tone, his pacing is all over the map, and character development is at a minimum.
That’s not to say that there aren’t bright spots. Again, there are a couple of good set pieces, there are a few funny moments and there are some nice character moments, but all in all the film is just mediocre fluff. Not outright bad, just boring.
My question is this: how many more of these “let’s take an old story and go all M. Night Shyamalan ‘what a twist!’ on it’s ass” movies are we going to have to go through? Can we be done now? Please?
Meantime, if you want to see Nicholas Hoult act well then go see if Warm Bodies is still playing.